Mississippi fire chief faces scrutiny after calling Legislative Black Caucus ‘a racist symbol’

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CLARKSDALE — Shortly after the Legislature removed the state flag, which featured the Confederate battle emblem, the Coahoma County fire chief took to social media to say another “racist symbol” in the state should be taken down: the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus.

Time to tear down another racist symbol in the state. The MS Black Legislative Caucus,” Coahoma County Fire Chief Jerry Mills wrote on Facebook on June 29.

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Jerry Mills, chief of Coahoma County Fire Department

Mills, who faces calls for his termination over the comment, manages the Coahoma County Fire Department, which serves the entire county except for the city of Clarksdale. He has worked in the fire department for over 20 years, he said.

After lawmakers voted to remove the state flag on June 28, the Clarksdale Press Register shared a Facebook post from state Rep. Orlando Paden, D-Clarksdale, stating: “We are working for the progress and for the image of Mississippi. #TakeItDown #RetiretheMSFlag Let’s move forward. #LegislativeSession2020”

Mills wrote his comment under the newspaper’s shared post.

Black citizens and residents of Coahoma County have publicly blasted Mills over the post and expressed eagerness to have him removed from his leadership position.

Will Smith, a Coahoma County native and educator, wrote this post:

Coahoma County Fire Chief Jerry Mills – This is unacceptable. Accountability please!

I engaged in a conversation with a gentleman from Clarksdale. I did not know who he was, until today. Coahoma County Board of Supervisors should vote to fire the Fire Chief. I hope the Coahoma County Supervisors are not condoning this guy. He should not receive another dollar from the taxpayers of Coahoma County. As fire chief, you serve as a public servant. Spreading hate has no place in Coahoma County or anywhere. We expect the elected officials to stand up for the people of Coahoma County. A vote of no confidence and fire the fire chief. Derrell Washington Paul Pearson Johnny Newson, what are you going to do? Please don’t tell me you can’t do anything because we know that is false. If the board attorney tells you cannot do anything, he needs to be fired as well. #LeadershipMatters

Mills doubled down, later commenting under Smith’s post: “What’s so controversial? You have an exclusively black group of state legislatures (sic), that don’t allow white legislators, claiming a flag is racist. …. I would like to know what the White Caucus thinks about this though.”

In a phone conversation with Mississippi Today, Mills said organizations like the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus further divides the state by calling the state flag “racist or a hate symbol.”

“I’m just standing on the ground that says if you are elected by taxpayers, you should represent your district, your area, your county or whatever — you should represent everyone in your area,” Mills said. “There shouldn’t be any caucus for one group.”

When asked if Mills thought his comments were offensive, he responded by saying, “they’re trying to make me out as a racist.”

“I’ve got 60 something guys on the fire department, and I guarantee they won’t find one of them who thinks I’m a racist,” he added.

Several members of the Coahoma County Board of Supervisors could not be reached for comment.

Conversations about racial justice and racist behavior by government leaders throughout the state has intensified in the past month since the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a police officer in Minnesota.

Over the past three weeks, sports leaders, religious groups, and top business officials, pressured state lawmakers to remove the state flag or risk losing their business and support. After weeks of conversation, both chambers voted to suspend the rules to pave way for the state flag legislation. This week, Gov. Tate Reeves signed the bill into law.

This isn’t the first time an official in Clarksdale took to social media to express offensive views. Last month, a nurse was fired after writing a lengthy Facebook post calling protesters “wild animals” and encouraging them to kill their own family members, burn their houses down and think about their actions.

Editor’s note: The Coahoma County Board of Supervisors voted to terminate Mills on July 8.